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Hurricane Joaquin Pummels Coast, Causes Massive Flooding - October 11, 2015

    Earlier this month, Maryland was very lucky to dodge a direct hit by Hurricane Joaquin. By Thursday, October 1st and Friday, October 2nd, people in Maryland were preparing for the worst and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency by Thursday night. However, by the weekend of the 4th, the hurricanes path had changed and we were fortunate to not receive the heavy winds and rain that some expected us to receive. Unfortunately for some states, the hurricane's path did not change quick enough to save them from tremendous wind and a huge downpour, resulting in massive flooding throughout South Carolina. 
 
    The amount of water that actually fell on South Carolina and is making its way to the Atlantic Ocean might never be able to be accurately measured. South Carolina definitely received the brunt of the storm, getting upwards of 22 inches of rain over Friday and the weekend. They got so much rain that it officially qualified as a 1,000 year rain event, essentially meaning that in any given year, they have a 1 in 1,000 chance of having a storm that big. 
 
    A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water level gauge measuring Gills Creek in Columbia, South Carolina stopped measuring at more than 10 feet above flood stage early Sunday only because it had been washed away. The flow of the Congaree River through downtown Columbia peaked at four times the historic maximum before its gauge also failed early on Monday. Where gauges held out, like at the airport in Charleston, nearly every standing rainfall record was broken, including a new monthly rainfall record in less than four days. All told, current rainfall estimates put this storm as one of the worst flooding events in U.S. history. And even though the rain eventually stopped by Monday, most of the state, especially the lowlands and midlands areas, were still susceptible to major flooding and dangerous conditions all through the following week and into the weekend. 
 
    Because of the sheer volume of water that fell on South Carolina, many of the states dams are under severe stress. Across the state there are over 2,500 dams, from larger concrete and metal dams to small earthenware dams in peoples backyards. Of these 2,500, the state of South Carolina is monitoring 62 of them, after 14 dams have broke thus far. Dams breaking and rivers overflowing their banks have led to massive flooding and damage to infrastructure, with approximately more than 250 roads and at least 100 bridges being closed or to dangerous for travel.
 
    All of the flood water and damage to infrastructure has made for a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in South Carolina. Most of the eastern part of the state has either been under or is still under a system-wide boil water advisory, due to flood waters mixing with local aquifers and wells. Essentially this means residents need to vigorously boil water for at least a full minute to use for consumption or other uses and avoid any ice made from water that was not boiled beforehand. Home water filtration systems, like Brita, are not considered a reliable source for cleaning the water as contaminants can either go through the filter or remain in the filter and re-contaminate water being passed through it. Unfortunately, authorities have warned residents that the boil water advisories still in place may be there for an extended period of time. 
 
    As if that was not bad enough, a National Weather Service statement late Sunday warned residents: “Be alert to wildlife that may have been displaced by flood waters, including alligators and snakes.” These animals, along with many others, have been displaced by flood waters and could potentially be in areas they would otherwise never be in, which could cause human-animal interactions where neither side benefits. All told, between dams bursting, rivers overflowing, streets and bridges getting damaged, houses being flooded, and animals being displaced, there is a lot of damage. According to recent estimates, the damage to houses, roads and other infrastructure in South Carolina could be upwards of $ 1 billion. And, unfortunately, the death toll currently stands at 17 for South Carolina, however it could continue to rise as they search for missing people and the water moves across the state. 
 
    Here in Maryland, we were lucky to avoid the worst of the storm, however there was still significant flooding throughout much of the coastal areas. Areas like Ocean City, Crisfield and Smith Island were hit with flooding, high waves and lots of wind. Assateague Island was closed due to flooding, heavy surf and high winds as well. Luckily, it was not nearly as bad as the flooding in South Carolina, as many of the flooded streets here only had a few inches of water and crews are already able to start the clean-up process. Apart from removing water, clean-up crews are also removing sand and debris that has washed up and over dunes and barriers into city streets and roads. 
 
    Ultimately, we were very fortunate here in Maryland to have escaped the worst of Hurricane Joaquin, however South Carolina was not so lucky. As the flood waters dissipate and South Carolina residents return to their damaged homes, it is time for us to come together as a country and show our support to the region devastated by this storm. 
 
 
Harrison Jackson is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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